This week, I'm continuing my college tour across Florida to let students know that I'm the only one in this race who will fight for them. From supporting affordable student loans to creating high-quality jobs in new industries, I'm committed to making these issues top priorities as Florida's next senator.
That's why it's so important for me to hear from students directly. Over the past week, I've visited Florida Memorial University, Florida International University, Broward College, UF, and FAMU. The tour wraps up tomorrow at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
Staying informed also means staying in touch. Between my Facebook profile and my Twitter handle, I'm able to stay connected through the same social-media tools that college students have adopted so effectively to communicate, organize and socialize. But commitment to Florida's students means more than creating an online presence. It means remembering the challenges that have faced young adults across generations.
Balancing classes and work. Searching for a job. Deciding on a career path. And last but not least, worrying about paying off student loan debt--wondering when, if ever, it will end.
I may be a few years removed from my time on Florida A&M's campus, but my memories of those questions have guided me during my life in politics. In Congress, I continue to focus on making the lives of Florida's students simpler, making a college degree a reality for all those who work for it.
At school at Florida A&M, I was fortunate to pursue my passions: football and politics. In addition to my time on the practice field and at Young Democrats chapter meetings, I had another responsibility: a summer job as a skycap. Working through college taught me valuable lessons in perseverance and time management. However, no student should be forced to choose between an extra shift and taking a full course load just to make ends meet. I am proud to have supported historic expansions to the Pell Grant program to limit these unfair decisions.
In less than two years, we have doubled the amount of funding available for these essential grants that support thousands of Floridians as they attend college. Over the next few years, thousands of additional students will be eligible for larger grants, easing the burden on students and their families during these difficult times.
Students should not graduate from college only to find a mountain of debt waiting for them as they begin their careers. For countless students who wish to enter public service but worry about their debt obligations, they feel that they must choose between their passion and their pocketbook.
That's why I supported new programs that provide peace of mind to students seeking financial security at the start of their careers that cap maximum student loan payments at ten percent of graduates' incomes. This will save recent graduates upwards of $110 a month -- real money to real, hardworking people beginning life after college.
Moreover, all graduates who make their loan payments on time will see their loan balance forgiven after 20 years. Graduates who go into public service after school will have their loan balance forgiven after ten years. The years I spent after graduation in the Florida Highway Patrol were some of the most fulfilling years of my life. The dedicated young men and women who seek to serve our communities will not have to worry that their career path has caused their student loan debt to grow out of control.
College should be a time of intellectual and personal growth, where passions and interests blossom into lifelong commitments. I will never forget my own experience as a college student at Florida A&M and how it made me into the person I am today. I will continue to work on behalf of today's students all across Florida to improve their own experience, before graduation and beyond.
Follow Rep. Kendrick B. Meek on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kendrickmeek